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Nunes, Terezinha and Peter Bryant, eds. (2004) Handbook of Children's Literacy, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Liang Chen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The purpose of the Handbook of Children's Literacy is to 'make it clear that children's literacy is a phenomenon that must be investigated from a variety of perspectives, with diverse methods and in order to answer different questions'. This commitment is partly reflected in the 35 papers, which are arranged into five sections. The book will be of interest to researchers, educators, and clinicians who are concerned with 'the multifaceted nature of children's literacy' (p. viiii).
Section A: LITERACY: BASIC PROCESSES IN DEVELOPMENT
Section A consists of 6 papers, and a brief introduction from the editors Terezinha Nunes and Peter Bryant.
LILIANA TOLCHINSKY discusses 'Childhood Conceptions of Literacy' through an examination of children's reactions to questions about what individual letters signify, and claims that children see letters as representing syllables rather than phonemes.
REBECCA TREIMAN examines the relationship between 'Phonology and Reading', and claims that phonemic reasons underlie children's omissions of vowels in their early writing (e.g., wrx for works).
LILIAN SPRENGER-CHAROLLES, in the paper titled 'Linguistic Processes in Reading and Spelling: The Case of Alphabetic Writing Systems: English, French, German and Spanish', points out that it takes children learning to read these language different amount of time to isolate phonemes and work out their relationship to the alphabetic letters, probably due to different levels of regularity of letter-sound correspondence.
GORDON D. A. BROWN & NICK CHATER explore the relevance of 'Connectionist Models in Children's Reading'. They suggest that beginning readers and older more expert children take different strategies that are 'optimal for the particular situation that they are in' (p.9).
PETER BRYANT & TEREZINHA NUNES review literature on the relationship between 'Morphology and Spelling'. They argue that English must be treated as a 'morph-phonic script' rather than a 'capricious orthography', because the regularities in sound-letter correspondences in English at the level of morphology. They point out that while morphology plays an important role in learning to read, it is not clear why this should be so.
URSULA PRETZLIK & LILY CHAN offers a review of researches into 'Children's Self-Perception as Readers'. Individual children put different efforts into learning to read, and much of this variation is determined by social and emotional factors. In particular, their own assessment of their reading abilities determine how much time they will spend on reading, which in turn determines how well they will learn to read.
Section B: READING AND WRITING TEXTS: AN OVERVIEW
In addition to the introduction by Alison F. Garton and Chris Pratt, this section consists of five papers that deal with production and comprehension of extended passages.
J. V. OAKHILL & K. CAIN provide an overview of research into 'The Development of Comprehension Skills'. They discuss various components of reading comprehension and children's reading development, including word identification, vocabulary and syntax, inference-making, knowledge of text structure, comprehension monitoring. They also highlight the importance of reading experience and motivation for growth of reading and gains in comprehension.
MICHEL FAYOL is concerned with 'Text and Cognition'. Based on a review of the research into performance, knowledge and processes involved in the use of narratives by adults and their acquisition by children, they distinguish three dimensions of narrative processing: conceptual, rhetorical, and linguistic. While the conceptual dimension concerns 'the mental representation of situations and events as well as their temporal or causal relations' (p. 184), the rhetorical dimension relates to the textual organization of narrative (e.g., narrative schema). Linguistic dimension, on the other hand, concerns the marking of event sequences through lexical and syntactic devices (e.g., the use of tense and aspect markers to distinguish between foreground actions and the background information.). According to Fayol, each of the three dimensions is subject to specific difficulties during the development of narrative comprehension and production, and therefore '[E]ach can also be the object of preventive or corrective action' (p. 192).
WILLIAM E. TUNMER & JAMES W. CHAPMAN reviews evidence in support of three views on 'The Use of Context in Learning to Read', and conclude that both context and word identification skills are necessary for children to making progress in learning to read. In particular, they suggest that context can help children in their development of word decoding skills. They conclude their review with the hypothesis that 'skilled readers are better than less- skilled readers in using context to identify unfamiliar words in text because of their superior phonological recoding and/or grammatical sensitivity skills, but they rely less on context than less-skilled readers to read the words of text because of their superior context free word recognition skills' (p. 211).
ALISON F. GARTON & CHRIS PRATT focus on usefulness of 'Reading Stories' in children's reading development. Reading stories to children can provide both social and educational benefits to, and in fact serves as a basis for success in, their success in later reading development. Through reading stories and being read stories, children come to know more about the language of books, to have a concept of a story, to know that printed words have meaning, and above all, to know that reading stories can be fun.
GAVRIEL SALOMON, ELY KOZMINSKY, & MERAV ASAF are concerned with the relationship between 'Computers and Writing'. They review research into the impact of technology (e.g., word processors) on writing processes and writing development, and indirectly on text understanding. They find that technology per se does not influence children's writing, but the learning environment it created may support and stimulate writing activities that enable children to monitor their own writing, to be reflective and aware of the activity.
Section C: NON-NORMATIVE DEVELOPMENT IN CHILDREN'S LITERACY
The 11 papers in this section cover various approaches (e.g., psychological, linguistic, neurological, genetic, pedagogical, and sociological) to various aspects of literacy problems (e.g., definitions, occurrence, variability, causes, prediction and intervention). CARSTEN ELBRO's paper 'Reading and Spelling Difficulties' serves as an introduction to the other 10 papers.
SÉVERINE CASALIS considers the controversy over 'The Concept of Dyslexia'. Reading difficulties don't constitute a unitary phenomenon, but rather run along a continuum. Children with word decoding deficits should be treated differently from children with comprehension difficulties.
NICKY BRUNSWICK covers the neurological bases of dyslexia in 'Developmental Dyslexia: Evidence from Brain Research'. The paper reviews neuroimaging studies of developmental dyslexia using techniques such as EEG (electroencephalography), ERPs (Event-Related Potentials), MEG (magnetoencephalography), PET(positron Emission Tomography), and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Such studies reveal abnormalities (structural and functional) within the temporal and temporal- parietal regions (particularly within the left hemisphere) in developmental dyslexics. The explanations for the neurophysiological and neuroanatomical differences between developmental dyslexics and normal readers are also evaluated.
JIM STEVENSON addresses the nature versus nurture question in dyslexia in his chapter 'Epidemiology: Genetic and Social Influences on Reading Ability'. Specifically, he is interested in the fact that dyslexia runs in families, and that boys seem to be more likely than girl to experience reading and writing difficulties. He argues that reading disability represents 'one of the major areas where complex cognitive skills can be analyzed in terms of the genes contributing to functional variation' (p. 293). While '[T]here is no such thing as "the RD (reading disability) gene" but identifying those genes that do play a role, insight into genetic variation and brain function will start to emerge' (p. 307).
KATE CAIN & JANE OAKHILL present an overview of research into the multifaceted nature of 'Reading Comprehension Difficulties' and their cognitive correlates. They highlight poor readers' difficulties at the word-, sentence-, and discourse-level, particularly their failure to relate and integrate current text with previous read text and with background knowledge. The studies they have reviewed seem to suggest the crucial contribution of early exposure to print to later reading success.
CARSTEN ELBRO & HOLLIS S. SCARBOROUGH presents one review of studies on 'Early Identification' and one on 'Early Intervention'. As is the case for other speech and language disorder, early identification and early intervention are crucial. As with most other papers, their primary interest is identifying readers with word decoding deficits. Intervention studies they reviewed therefore also center around phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and other rudimentary reading skills.
MARGARET SNOWLING and YVONNE GRIFFITHS deal with 'Individual Differences in Dyslexia' from several perspectives: single case research, models of normal reading development, comparisons with acquired dyslexias, and connectionist models of reading and spelling behaviors.
JULIE E. DOCKRELL & GEOFF LINDSAY focus on 'Specific Speech and Language Difficulties and Literacy', and present an overview on the varying consequences of various specific language impairments on reading. Rather than focus on phonological factors, they suggest that we need consider semantic, syntactic, and metalinguistic abilities and attention in literacy development.
SUSANNA MILLAR reviews studies of 'Reading by Touch in Blind Children and Adults'. While the focus is on Braille (characters based on a six point matrix), two other systems "Moon" (simplified capital letters) and "optacon" (vibrotactile stimulation of the fingertip) are also discussed. Such studies help use to understand 'how touch functions, and how the perceptual and orthographic basis of a tactual reading system relates to the language which it is intended to convey' (p. 437), and indeed how it is acquired.
JÉSUS ALEGRIA reviews several issues involved in 'Deafness and Reading' such as determinants of reading ability in deaf persons (i.e., individual differences in language knowledge and reading comprehension), phonology and reading in deaf persons, and reading mechanisms in the deft. They argues that while deaf children can compensate their inability at the linguistic level and their weakness in general world knowledge by using sign language, they cannot reach high literacy levels due to their lack of oral language phonology basis. As he put it, 'oral language phonology seems to be necessary conditions for reaching higher literacy levels' both for hearing persons and deaf persons (p. 460).
Section D: LITERACY CONCEPTS AND INSTRUCTION
There are six chapters in this section. ANNE-MARIE CHARTIER offers an overview of this section through her 'Introduction: Teaching Literacy: What Practices, When and Why'.
DANIEL A. WAGNER focuses on 'Literacy in Time and Space: Issues, Concepts and Definitions'. A review of the literature on both children's literacy and adult literacy suggests that we should conceptualize literacy as having both a life span dimension (i.e., across an individual's life time from childhood to adult) and a life space dimension (i.e., literacy practices across diverse parts of the globe). A more literate world depends on a synergy of a life-span and life-space approach to literacy.
ANNE-MARIE CHARTIER presents a selective review of methods of teaching reading from the 16 to the 19 century in her chapter 'Teaching Reading: A Historical Approach'. She observes that 'teaching methods depend on what reading actually involved at the time considered' (p. 512).
DAVID R. OLSON addresses 'The Cognitive Consequences of Literacy', i.e., the impact of literacy on cognition. He argues that written language is essentially different from oral language, and 'writing systems are culturally evolved notational systems which provide categories in terms of which we come to think about our speech'. Consequently, we need to distinguish the communication function of literacy from its representational or cognitive function.
JANE HURRY reviews the debate over the phonics versus whole language approach to literacy through 'Comparative Studies of Instructional Methods'. It is shown that both the content and method of literacy instruction are important if learners are to benefit from learning to read.
MADELON SAADA-ROBERT discusses issues surrounding 'Early Emergent Literacy', including home environment, socio-economic and cultural predictors, quality of shared reading, the influence of genres of books, and preschool literacy development. A research paradigm 'combining experimental, ethnological, and psychogenetic methods within an ecological context' (p. 594) is recommended for the situated study of emergent literacy.
JOSÉ MORAIS & RÉGINE KOLINSKY deals with 'The Linguistic Consequences of Literacy', and examines the impact of literacy on linguistic and metalinguistic abilities. While a critical review of the literature suggests differential influences of literacy on lexical, morphological, phonological, syntax and semantic components of language, the authors emphasize the importance of more rigorous research methodologies.
Section E: LOOKING ACROSS LANGUAGES
There are seven papers in this section in addition to a brief introduction by Terezinha Nunes. Most issues covered in Section A show themselves in this section, but this time from a cross- linguistic perspective.
SYLVIA DEFIOR, in his paper 'Phonological Awareness and Learning to Read: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective', reviews studies on the relationship between phonological awareness and learning to read, and finds that different types of orthography, different degrees of orthographic transparency with respect to phonology, and characteristics of oral language all influence the development of conscious phonological representations.
TEREZINHA NUNES & GIYOO HATANO, in their chapter 'Morphology, Reading and Spelling: Looking Across Languages', considers the role of morphology and morphological aware in reading and spelling in different languages. Research is reviewed that shows transfer of morphological awareness in literacy across languages.
LINDA SIEGEL reviews research on the relationship between 'Bilingualism and Reading', which reveals that learning two languages does not interfere with learning to read and positive transfer of reading and spelling skills can occur between two languages.
MIRIAM BINDMAN reveals transfer of morphosyntactic awareness in children with experience to two unrelated languages and scripts by investigating 'Grammatical Awareness Across Languages and the Role of Social Context: Evidence from English and Hebrew'. It is suggested that the specific social and cultural practices be considered along with the relationships across different languages and orthographies.
KRISHNA KUMAR highlights the relationship between 'Literacy, Socialization and the Social Order' through an analysis of school instruction in India. Bilingual education is argued to impact not only children's reading potential, but above all their socialization through literacy.
ALEJANDRA PELLICER reports a study investigating 'Segmentation in the Writing of Mayan Language Statements by Indigenous Children with Primary Schooling'. Mayan Children instructed in Spanish as a second language were asked to write a list of sentences spoken in Maya which is their mother tongue. Segmentation principles learned from Spanish instruction were found to transfer in writing Maya, with a consideration of its particularities.
DIANA BURMAN & URSULA PRETZLIK investigates 'Paths to Literacy for Deaf British Sign Language (BSL) Users'. However, their study is actually more limited to test the hypothesis that teaching of grammatical and morphological rules enhances Deaf children's spelling development and text writing. The outcome is evaluated in terms of the accuracy of spelling, and therefore it is not clear how significant such intervention may be in terms of general reading comprehension.
Most contributions to this handbook view literacy as a linguistic and representational ability. Even though literacy is occasionally conceptualized as a generative ability, the ability is limited to identification and production of words. The narrow conceptualization of literacy is not what we would expect if we consider the volume as 'a rare opportunity to consider literacy in breadth and depth by consulting a single collection' (backcover).
In this volume, reading comprehension is usually separated from word recognition (decoding), and in fact the focus of the handbook is literacy as word decoding. It's therefore no wonder that dyslexia is defined as 'a specific problem with the acquisition of word decoding abilities' (Carsten Elbro, p. 253). Carsten Elbro also refers to dyslexia as 'a problem with the acquisition of the basic alphabetic principle of the writing system' (Carsten Elbro, p. 250). Though he doesn't make it clear what he means by 'the alphabetic principle', one can't help wondering what that principle is in the written system of languages like Chinese. Or if such a principle doesn't operate in Chinese, are Chinese children are more fortunate so as to avoid the infliction of dyslexia?
After phonological awareness, morphological and syntactic awareness are also posited as a theoretical construct in reading research. One wonders whether semantic awareness or pragmatic awareness will be the next object of inquiry. Or how many awarenessES do we need in order to learn to read? It is worth pointing out in this regard that while 'it is clear that skilled readers can be identified as having certain characteristics and certain skills, but whether these are a cause or a consequence of reading still has to be determined' (Garton & Pratt, p. 152.). J. V. Oakhill and K. Cain make it more explicit when they say '[W]hereas clear correlational links have between shown between comprehension skills and other variables, most of the available data do not permit conclusions about the likely direction of the link between a particular skill or ability and reading development, so in most cases there no direct evidence that the link is causal' (p. 175). Unfortunately, this insight is not always shared by the contributors to this volume.
The Handbook of Children's Literacy contains a wide range of perspectives on literacy, and reviews of literature in each perspective may become handy for any newcomer into the field. However, in order to have a more complete picture of children's literacy, it might be best read as a supplement to the Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy edited by Nigel Hall, Joanne Larson, and Jackie Marsh and published by Saga Publications in the year of 2003 (http://www.sagepub.com/booktoc.aspx?pid=5318&sc=1). The publication of these two handbooks may indicate to certain extent the lack of correspondence between researchers in childhood literacy. While the Handbook of Children's Literacy represents a bottom-up and skills-building approach to literacy, the Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy presents a more holistic and therefore top-down approach where the focus is on literacy as a socially situated phenomenon and on how children learn to construct meaning.
I will end the review with a call from J. V. Oakhill and K. Cain for more 'longitudinal studies of reading development and for studies of interactions between children's comprehension skills and strategies' (p. 176).
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Liang Chen is a doctoral student of Applied Language and Speech Sciences in the Department of Communicative Disorders at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His current research includes theoretical semiotics, language disorders, language assessment, and qualitative methods. Other interests include syntactic theory and Chinese linguistics.